The Perfect Mother, by Nina Darnton

Three stars (of five)

Darnton provides an entertaining second novel, even if its foundation is pulled from the headlines in a case most tabloid-hungry folks know all too well. When Jennifer Lewis receives a frantic phone call from her daughter, things take a dramatic turn. Emma has been detained in Seville, Spain and is being questioned about a murder within her flat. Jennifer drops everything and heads to Europe, keen to clear things up and bring Emma back to the States. When Jennifer arrives, she discovers that things are more complex than first presumed. Jennifer secures legal counsel for Emma and waits to see the Spanish wheels of justice move. When an investigator is brought onto the case, Jennifer forges a bond with Roberto and tries to work with him to clear Emma, while digging up dirty on a supposed boyfriend, the mastermind of the murder. Jennifer’s family suffers back at home and her husband, Mark, must straddle both sides of the Atlantic to pay for the legal fees, while Jennifer remains in Spain, searching for answers. Lines are blurred with Roberto, and the tabloids take advantage of these weaknesses to exacerbate Emma’s problems. With Emma’s life hanging in the balance, Jennifer must play the role of the perfect mother to ensure her eldest is protected, but at what cost to everyone else?

Darnton is surely a competent writer, though this novel leaves me a little less than impressed. The story is not only ‘ripped from the headlines’ but also uses the Amanda Knox story and almost replaces names and locales. It has little, if any, unique attribute and is superficial in its departure from the Knox version. Creating a less than stellar romantic connection between ‘perfect mother’ Jennifer and trial investigator Roberto seemed a little more trivial, especially since the story’s depth did not extend into the full legal battle of the event. I would have preferred more nuance or a deeper tale to flesh out more development and less sickly-sweet weak mother trying to put her daughter first.

Kudos for the idea, Mrs. Darnton. While you have the ability to convey a story well, perhaps it’s time you focus less on the structure of a well-known case and create one yourself.

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